Why You MUST Slow-play Pocket Aces - The Availability Bias

 photo preachercasy151: Poker coach and player, specialising in the psychology of decision-making. Sport Psychology Masters. www.christykeenan.com
Christy uses his sport psychology Masters to analyse a common spot at the poker tables: the slow-played AA

Quickly answer this question: do more words feature the letter K as the first or the third letter in the English language?


Vedran is a strong low-stakes 6-max SNG player who is playing his way out of a minor downswing. He posted up the following hand in my students’ chat group:

‘I am dealt AA and open raise from middle position. The TAG reg in the Big Blind 3-bets me, and I decide to flat call, for deception and balance purposes.

The flop comes Ks Jd 3h. The reg checks, I continuation bet 60% of the pot, and the reg mini-raises me. I estimate his range preflop to be TT-KK, and, based on this range, I feel that he must have a set so I puke-fold. This is why I hate slow-playing AA!’

The Poker Mindset gets cloudy

Now, let’s get something straight. Vedran posted up the hand because he suspected that he had made an error. And believe me, he most definitely had. He had fallen foul of availability bias.

When we think back to all of the times that we slow-played AA, we instantly recall the occasions where it ended disastrously. Our minds become awash with memories of flopped sets, of backdoor draws hitting, and of losing our place in the hand.

As such, our mind wants us to believe that slow-playing monster hands is a terrible move, and that we will somehow get punished every time we do so.

Well guess what?

It’s total garbage.

Should we slow-play Pocket Aces?

There IS a time and a place for slow-playing Aces. It’s just that all the times that it works out well are harder to recall.

In this hand, Vedran back-fitted his analysis to paint a scenario in which a fold could be deemed acceptable. However, is it remotely realistic to peg the TAG reg’s range squarely at TT-KK? Hell no! What about all the 44s and JQo and A5s that elected to 3-bet pre-flop? Just because villain is tight, doesn’t mean that he MUST have a monster here.

Similarly, on the flop, Vedran disregarded any bluffs or value raises with AK, KQ etc. He feared the worst, partially because, on an unconscious level, he has been conditioned to believe that AA gets cracked FAR more often than is the reality.

Vedran allowed his irrational fears to influence his decision-making, and It resulted in his making a very poor fold.

We are programmed to remember the remarkable. We are more likely to recall the times where we got that horrible sinking feeling in our gut as we saw the diamonds hit, than all those times where we doubled-up unceremoniously and quickly moved our focus to the next hand.

Your Mind Plays Tricks

Just because something springs more readily to mind, does not mean that it occurs more commonly. In fact, it is BECAUSE Aces win more regularly than lose that the wins become routine and unremarkable. By extension, the losses are out of the ordinary and therefore easier to recall.

And, as you have probably worked out by now, you were wrong. The letter K features more than twice as often as the third letter than as the first. It’s just that those words that begin with K spring more readily to mind.

Ladies and gentlemen – the availability bias. A nasty little blighter that needs to be kept away from the poker tables!


Let me know of the times when YOU fell foul of the availability bias in the comments below! And don’t forget to use the Social Share buttons to spread the article online.

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*I borrowed the Letter K example from Daniel Kahneman’s groundbreaking Thinking, Fast and Slow.

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